Craig Smith didn't accompany the Timberwolves on their weekend trip to Houston and New Orleans, and Mike Miller isn't going anywhere. That was the news of the day Friday from Wolves coach Kevin McHale, who emphatically declared that the team isn't looking to trade Miller before the Feb. 19 NBA deadline. McHale also said Smith is expected to miss at least the next two weeks after X-rays revealed a small break in his ribs.
Smith, the Wolves' starting power forward, suffered the injury in the first quarter of Tuesday's victory at Indiana.
In his absence, rookie Kevin Love had 16 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday's loss to Atlanta and will continue to start.
Exactly when Smith will return is uncertain.
"It's so hard to say," McHale said. "He's a really tough kid, but I would assume with the amount of pain he's in right now, that's not going to alleviate itself in a week to 10 days. Then he's also got to be able to play and get banged there, too, so I'd say a minimum of a couple weeks."
Love has been playing heavy minutes off the bench for the Wolves, but Wednesday was his first start since Dec. 5.
Both he and McHale said the rookie has come a long way since then.
"Just figuring everything out," Love said. "When to pass the ball, where to be on the court; especially on defense, I've gotten so much better. I'm only halfway to really where I want to be. ... (But) I just feel like a whole different player offensively and defensively."
McHale called the strides Love has made in understanding team defense "one of the most remarkable transformations on this team."
"That kid's going to be a tremendous Basketball player for years and years and years in our league," he said. "I told you guys all along, I'm a big believer that if you earn your time, you respect it more. He's earning his time."
Love and center Al Jefferson face a huge challenge, literally, tonight in Houston against 7-foot-6 Rockets center Yao Ming, who scored 18 points Dec. 20 in a 109-102 victory at Target Center.
"He really towers over everybody in this league, especially a guy my size or a guy Al's size as well," Love said. "We're just going to have to force him off the block. He's got a great turnaround, he's got a great hook over his left shoulder, so we're just going to have to push him out, push him into tough shots because you're not going to block Yao's shot too often."
Miller hasn't started since suffering a second sprained ankle in that first meeting with the Rockets, but McHale said the Wolves aren't actively shopping him.
"As I always say, if they offer Kobe (Bryant), we'll definitely consider that," McHale said. "But are we looking to trade him? No."
Miller's name has come up in trade rumors involving the New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, but McHale indicated that the chances of any deal are highly unlikely.
"You never say never, but we're not looking to trade Mike Miller," McHale said. "We couldn't be happier with Mike. ... If calls come in, of course you listen to them. Everybody calls each other, but I tell you what, I'd be beyond shocked if we traded him."
Miller, informed of McHale's remarks, said he was happy to hear it.
"Well, I'm glad," he said. "That means your coaching staff and the organization likes what you're doing."
Miller had his highest-scoring game since Dec. 1 in the loss to the Hawks, tallying 17 points and hitting 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 6 three-pointers.
One game doesn't mean he's out of his shooting slump, but Miller said he's starting to feel like his old self.
"My shot's felt good the last seven or eight games," he said. "It's just a matter of getting the looks that I want, and at the same time being able to make plays for other guys and make them better. I can't always focus just on myself. It's got to be on what can help this team win games."
Silent treatment: Along with Miller, Rashad McCants led a late comeback against the Hawks, scoring 10 points and hitting a couple of three-pointers in his first game action since Jan. 7.
McCants declined interview requests after Friday's practice, but McHale again praised the former sixth man for continuing to practice hard and staying ready.
"Rashad was never gone," McHale said. "He just didn't play. ... I'm proud of him."